What Causes a Thin Mane and Tail?

An owner is frus­trated by her young Ap­paloosa show geld­ing’s per­sis­tent hair loss.

Horse & Rider - - Whole Horse Q&a - KATIE DELPH, DVM, MS Equine In­ter­nal Medicine Kansas State Univer­sity

AM. SHOPE, Michi­gan

horse with alope­cia (hair loss) or ab­nor­mal hair growth should be ex­am­ined by a vet­eri­nar­ian, as ef­fec­tive treat­ment re­quires de­ter­min­ing the un­der­ly­ing cause. Alope­cia in horses has var­i­ous causes, many of them as- so­ci­ated with pru­ri­tis (itch­ing). Stress­ful events (sys­temic ill­ness, high fever, surgery) can also cause hair fol­li­cles to halt in a spe­cific grow­ing phase, re­sult­ing in wide­spread alope­cia or hair ab­nor­mal­i­ties and break­age. New hair growth be­gins one to three months after the event.

An­other cause of alope­cia is fol­lic­u­lar dys­pla­sia. This con­di­tion causes hair-fol­li­cle ab­nor­mal­i­ties, in­clud­ing atyp­i­cally formed hair shafts that eas­ily break, or poor hair growth over­all. One ex­am­ple of fol­lic­u­lar dys­pla­sia—and one that may be re­lated to your geld­ing’s case—is mane and tail dys­tro­phy, where hair loss is re­stricted to these re­gions and the hairs are dull, short, and brit­tle. This syn­drome (seen as early as at birth, or rec­og­nized in adult­hood) is most com­monly re­ported in Ap­paloosa and Curly horses. It’s be­lieved to be re­lated to an au­toim­mune dis­or­der called alope­cia areata. The cause of alope­cia areata in horses is sim­i­lar to that seen in other species, in­clud­ing hu­mans, dogs, cats, cat­tle, mice, and poul­try. Au­toan­ti­bod­ies (the body’s own im­mune-sys­tem an­ti­bod­ies at­tack­ing self-pro­teins) are di­rected against anti­gens of grow­ing hair fol­li­cles. The hair fol­li­cles go into their rest­ing phase (see box), re­sult­ing in hair loss, then the fol­li­cles be­come ab­nor­mal.

The dis­ease has a sus­pected ge­netic or her­i­ta­ble pre­dis­po­si­tion and, as

men­tioned, Ap­paloosas are more com­monly af­fected. Some cases worsen in the spring/sum­mer and im­prove in the win­ter. Some­times alope­cia goes into re­mis­sion six months to two years after on­set; other times the dis­ease per­sists.

Un­der the di­rec­tion of your vet­eri­nar­ian, treat­ments for alope­cia areata can in­clude med­i­ca­tions, such as cor­ti­cos­teroids, that sup­press the im- mune sys­tem. Such treat­ments re­sult in vari­able suc­cess.

To en­cour­age hair growth in gen­eral, work with your vet or an equine nu­tri­tion­ist to en­sure that your geld­ing’s diet is op­ti­mal, with ad­e­quate vi­ta­mins and min­er­als. Sup­ple­ments con­tain­ing bi­otin, me­thio­n­ine, zinc, and/or cop­per can en­hance the growth of ker­a­tinized tis­sues, in­clud­ing hair and hooves. More on tails: “Cure That Tail Rub­bing.”

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